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Nanjing declares lights out for Lantern Festival tradition
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The sale and display of traditional flying lanterns have been banned in Nanjing, capital of eastern Jiangsu province, over safety concerns, local officials said on Wednesday.

The lamp is also known as the Kongming Lamp: its inventor, Zhuge Liang (181-234), who is also known as Zhuge Kongming, was a notable statesman and strategist in the Three Kingdoms period. The lamp is traditionally made of paper and carried aloft by hot air from a candle inside.

"The temperature could be as high as 300 degrees Celsius," said an official with the Nanjing government. If used improperly "it would pose a threat to aircraft, power supply lines and telecommunications equipment and could set fire to forests and houses."

The lamp, which retails for 10 to 15 yuan (1.4 to 2.1 U.S. dollars), could fly "a thousand meters high", the official noted.

One lamp ignited a tree branch in downtown Nanjing last Wednesday but didn't cause large fire due to timely firefighting, according to the local Nanjing Daily.

First used as a signal in battles, the flying lantern became popular among folk in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) as symbol of wishes displayed during festivals.

The Chinese Lantern Festival, or 'Yuanxiao Festival', takes place on the 15th day of the first lunar month, the first night of the new year where there is a full moon.

On that evening, people hang up red lanterns believed to bring good luck, solve word puzzles, perform lion and dragon dances and eat yuanxiao -- a round dumpling made of glutinous rice and sweet filling. The festival will fall on Thursday this year.

(Xinhua News Agency February 20, 2008)

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